Sunday, August 22, 2010

Beware Excusitis – the Failure Disease

Earlier this year, I caught a dangerous virus. Not one of those computer ones, mind, but something just as scary. This disease is easy to catch and hard to shake off. Symptoms include sapping of morale, veritable plagues of self-doubt, and in extreme cases, death of ambition.

I’m talking about Excusitis – the failure disease, and if you don’t take positive steps to cure yourself, you risk losing not only your dream, but the desire to even pursue it.

We all have that little voice in the back of our mind that can justify any failure. This would never have happened if it hadn’t been for… If I’d only known about this two weeks ago… etc.

Nobody likes to lose, so we learn to tell ourselves whatever half-truth (or downright lie) we need to hear that will take the sting out of failure and put responsibility on something (or someone) else.

Of course, that’s not to say we should always blame ourselves. There are plenty of times when events really do conspire against us, but the trouble is, every time we lay the blame elsewhere we open the door to Excusitis and believe you me, once that little rotter gets its size sixteen boot across the threshold, you’re in trouble.

Take writing for example. Ever had to cancel your writing time because of a last-minute crisis at work kept you out late, or the traffic was bad? Maybe one of the kids got sick, or family came to visit. Perfectly acceptable reasons one and all, but have you ever noticed how one valid excuse always seems to lead into another? Before you know it the week’s gone by and you’ve done no new writing at all. But that’s okay. You’ll catch up over the weekend, right?

Only you don’t.

Something else comes up, then something else after that, and with every new obstacle the decision to put off writing gets easier. You stop going to your local writing group. After all, there’s no harm in missing a meeting or two. Besides, it’s not like you’ve got anything new to show them, right?

A few months back, Excusitis took such a hold on me that I virtually stopped writing altogether. Sure, I was busy with the book launch, my blog, and trying to keep on top of everything else in my life, but that's my point. Valid excuses are all well and good, but they don't get the job done.

Once Excusitis burrows its way into your brain, it sits there, poisoning your dream by providing you with perfect-sounding reasons for why it was okay to miss that goal you set yourself. And without you ever realizing what's happening, it wraps itself around your ambition and slowly, gently squeezes the life out of it.

Some people never recover. They become bitter, angry even. Where they once gave fellowship and support to fellow writers, they offer discouragement. "Publishing's a lottery...Who needs an agent anyway..." They tear people down instead of building them up. They mock the work of other, more successful writers, relishing in the faults in that bestselling book, rather than studying it to see what the author did right.

Luckily for me, my old gran had a cure. It has a 100% success rate too (though repeat prescriptions are advised), and being the nice chap that I am, I’m going to share it here. My old gran called it the “Don’t just stand there, do something, you great dozy twannock!’ remedy, but a more regular term for it would be:

‘Take immediate action.’

The ‘immediate’ part is the key. It’s no good telling yourself you’ll write later. Just stop whatever you’re doing, grab some paper and jot down some words. They could be potential titles, a few ‘What ifs?’ or even some character notes. It really doesn’t matter. The important thing is that you do some writing, right then and there. Think of it as jump-starting your dream.

Is this a one-dose cures all deal? Absolutely not. You need to take repeated immediate action several times a day, for as long as it takes, but just as putting off writing gets easier the more you do it, so does the cure, and if you keep at it you’ll soon be back in the swing of things.

I'm back on track now, but you never fully recover from Excusitis, so I'm keeping a sharp eye out for signs of a relapse.

Now you know the danger signs, the next time that little voice in your head tells you it can’t hurt to skip your planned writing time once in a while, or that you needn’t bother sending out that story or query letter because… just think of my old gran’s encouraging words, reach for that notepad and start writing.

One day, your dream will thank you.

My name's Jon. I have Excusitis, but I'm not going to let it stop me writing today.

How about you?

Born in England, Jon Gibbs, now lives in New Jersey, where he’s a member of several writers' groups, including the New Jersey chapter of SCBWI and The Garden State Horror Writers. He is the founder of The New Jersey Authors’ Network and

Jon's debut novel,
Fur-Face (a Middle Grade fantasy about unusual friendships, unlikely alliances, and wanting to fit in), was published in eBook form by Echelon Press in 2010 (click here to see the trailer).

His presentation/workshop, The Fine Art of Self Promotion is based on entries from his popular online journal, An Englishman in New Jersey.

Jon can usually be found hunched over the computer in his basement office. One day he hopes to figure out how to switch it on.


  1. I've been told by others I have Excusitis. I keep telling them that's not what's making me itch. Still... they insist that I get help for it. But I'm just too busy, my socks need matched, there's a great TV special about sock matching on later.

    I suppose it's possible I have Excusitis. But it's not my fault. If writers would just wash their hands.

    I like your old Grans remedy (I was hoping it was a big jug of her rumatism medicine).

    Nice post.

  2. Great post! I have to admit I've suffered from excusitis myself. Nasty little bugger it is for sure. And you're write, the only way to get over it is to just sit and write.

  3. Good post, Jon!

    Excuses can be deadly and they only grow the more one uses them. The prescribed remedy should be very effective.

  4. So, so right. I need to keep dosing myself up, too. It IS too easy to let too long go by without new writing.

  5. Hi Brian,

    I was hoping it was a big jug of her rumatism medicine My old gran never shared her whisky with anyone ;)

    Thanks for the kind words, Kat :)

    Hi Aaron, I don't believe in the 'Write every day' philosophy - I think it's too easy to fool yourself that you're making progress, but it's a definite short term cure for Excusitis.

  6. Hi Asakiyume,

    Sadly, it's all too easy. One minute I had everything nicely balanced, the next thing I knew I hadn't worked on any WiPs in weeks and hadn't written anything new for two months!

  7. Very true. It's so easy to make excuses not to write. My cure is just getting my butt in the chair and flippin' write. It isn't going to happen by itself, right?

    Great post!

  8. Great post, Jon! :) I always like your old gran's advice. ;)

  9. Way to easy to find excuses for why one can't find the time to write. I've used them. I'll definitely be more aware of my "excusitis" in the future. Thanks for sharing this post.
    : )

  10. Thanks, Merc. My old gran always did have a way with words :)

  11. Hi Susanne,

    Glad you enjoyed it. I think we all have to keep a wary eye out for symptoms.

  12. I must cure my excusitis! Thank you for giving a name to this malady I suffer!

  13. You are preaching to the choir, Jon. I've had this for a while. Great post!

    ~ Melissa

  14. I'm glad you found it helpful, Christine :)

  15. Thanks, Melissa :)

  16. It's like how I could have been great at procrastination, if I could just get around to it! -)

  17. Great post, Jon! I too have suffered from this insidious malady. And you're right, the cure is immediate butt-in-chair, hands-on-keyboard. Your old gran is a genius, as always :)

  18. What everybody else said goes for me too. So out with the excusitis and back to the keyboard. Thanks for the pep talk.


  19. I've been innoculated. Whew! Thank goodness!

  20. Thanks, Beverly and bogwitch.

    As for being innoculated, I'm not sure drink's the answer ;)

  21. "It’s no good telling yourself you’ll write later. Just stop whatever you’re doing, grab some paper and jot down some words."

    This is absolutely true! I fall into the "I'll write as soon as I finish this job" trap, or "I'll write as soon as I first spend time with the kids or husband" and those ARE good excuses, but those things never go away (and I don't want them to!). The key is to squeeze in the writing time regardless, as you say. Just do it.

    I'm going to post your gran's words on my computer desktop because there's nothing like being called a great dozy twannock to get you moving. :)

  22. Lol, Gran was a great motivator, even without the cattle prod :)